Anyone’s Paradise

23 Aug

I recently travelled back home to my native California to spend some much needed time with friends and family and to soak up some sunshine. It was awesome.

As a writer (and a fan of Steinbeck who was always writing about the search for identity), I was looking – and always have been – for the ultimate question: who am I?

As I travel and experience more and more of the planet and spend more time away from my first home, the answer becomes more complex. As I turn back to the Bible and to Jesus who had no home at all, the answer becomes simple… But that doesn’t mean it is an easy one to accept.

Anyone’s Paradise

So the way it goes.

I have dusted my feet with the salted mud of Jordan’s shores
And the golden sands of California
And looked on the dying sun from Ha Long Bay
Between the limestone mirages.

My voice deceives me. I fit neither here nor there
For as fast as sound travels, the air is filled with ideas
About me. How untrue to me they are, there they are:
Floating around me in a cloud of foreign dust.

I don’t blend into anyone’s paradise.

My hair was scissored by a British hand
My white teeth aligned by an American
My skirt hand sewn in Vietnam
My neck adorned by Bedouin artisans
My shoulders wrapped in a Mexican blanket and
My belly full of chapattis dipped in the most fragrant lentils.

Where do I belong? My patchwork self
Embroidered and inlaid with the world’s kindness and smiles.
And so I go.



26 Jul

In my travels I have seen some incredible displays of war of barely just the previous generation. On one level they are lurid reminders of the sadness and tragedy (on all sides). When I asked around in these places (Vietnam, Lebanon, Dublin) why these pock marks on an otherwise pretty landscape have not been torn down or made into money-generating museums the people shared with me another side: they are reminders for peace. And my ah-ha moment came slowly, humbly.

I long for the day when I will visit Afghanistan and see the smiling faces of the people, sharing life around a table of mint tea and dolma.

The Holiday Inn, Beirut: Shot up after six weeks of being opening in 1975, adjacent to a modern high rise and now part of the background. Check out the holes along the right side.

The Gerneral Post Office, Dublin: the pillars bear the bullet marks from the Easter Rising, 1916

This poem compares these monsterous and beautiful monuments to titans: goddesses who were once beautiful but now are stone and ash, reminders of the battle.


“Over the past few years, the road to confrontation has shown its consequences: loss of innocent lives, destruction and fear. Most costly, however, was the loss of hope.” – King Abdullah II

She rose into the clouds
Towering over the city
Grey and scaled, each story
A rib of the underbelly.

Once welcoming onlookers
The handcrafted guarded goddess
Lulled the seascape with newness –
But that was some time ago.

She was silent: watching,
Waiting. Skin cracked, crumbling
Into pieces, her frame
Bearing wounds and ravaged

From whatever war it was.
There were no bodies left
Now, no blood, no stains but
Those great cenotaph scars.

This mother beast:
A Gorgon, turned to stone
And standing; a monument
Terrifying and alluring.

There are so many:
Beirut, Da Nang, Dublin.
Some are still, quiet;
Some alive and telling.

They protest the erosion
Of fated, forgetful minds
For whatever war it is.
For whoever lays down

Their lives and we pray:
Help us to look and see,
To hear and echo peace
Though we lie in pieces.


Poetry sucks! …decidedly so

26 Jul

Well, if that’s the case…

What happened to the apostrophe and s?

In the words of the tragic Hamlet: to be or not to be… or in the words of ill-spoken teenyboppers: it boring or it not boring…

That is the question.

Poetry comes in all shapes and sizes, topics, techniques – there is a massive, vast array of options. It is like someone saying they don’t like art. This type of person isn’t your average Thomas Kincade hater, they despise Picasso’s starry night, Dali’s weird-o alternate reality, children’s first scribbles, graffiti, napkin doodles, the lot.

Types of poetry (how many do you hate?):

Free verse
Nursery rhymes
Songs – yup! Even the latest from Beyonce.

I am certain that the students polled who ‘hate’ poetry cannot define more than three from the above list. But… If you have made it up in your mind, decided with resolve beforehand at some undetermined moment that you will not enjoy poetry, how will you ever know what fun you could be had?

A way back into poetry

HOT TEACHER TIP: One of my favorite poetry exercises is to have each student write some obscure one-liner on a piece of paper. All students pass the paper along the row. The next student writes another obscure one-liner that rhymes with the first line. Then they fold it over covering the two lines. Finally, they write one more line that does not rhyme. The paper is passed again and the action repeated. Eventually you get a full page of rhyming couplets that leave the students in stitches laughing at what silly and odd things they can come up with, if they just give their minds a chance to be free and be goofy.

I always tell my students that I love poetry because there is no wrong answer.

But if you hate poetry, Mary had a Little Lamb, napkin doodles, rhyming words, children and fun, then poetry is not for you. For this reason, poetry sucks.

 The score

 Poetry sucks: 2

 Poetry rules: 4

Poetry sucks! …unless it rhymes?!

23 Jul








This student’s opinion on poetry makes me giggle a little bit. It reminds me of this:

Now ignoring the fact that ‘rhyming’ is not spelling correctly, let’s focus on what’s really at stake here: does poetry suck or not? To this 12 or 13 year old genius, it does not. Are they right?Now, I youtubed poetry to explore the idea that rhyme is intimately intertwined with poetry and many people vehemently argue that indeed, poems MUST rhyme. However, I am here to dispel the myth that poems do NOT need to rhyme to be poem.

My personal definition of poetry is that it is basically carefully crafted word art. Check out my About page for more on that nugget. Quote me if you wish. However, to be a bit more acadmic, check out my good findings for what poetry is:

Don’t deny that you don’t google anything and everything and take it at face value. Rhyme is NOT the same as rhythm.

Check out this comparison of rhyme and rhythm:

Rhyme Rhythm
/raɪm/  [rahym] noun, verb, rhymed, rhym·ing. noun 1.

identity in sound of some part, especially the end, of words or lines of verse.


a word agreeing with another in terminal sound: Find is a rhyme for  mind and  womankind.


verse or poetry having correspondence in the terminal sounds of the lines.


a poem or piece of verse having such correspondence.


verse ( def. 4 ) .

  /ˈrɪðəm/ [rithuhm]noun 1.

movement or procedure with uniform or patterned recurrence of a beat, accent, or the like.


Music .


the pattern of regular or irregular pulses caused in music by the occurrence of strong and weak melodic and harmonic beats.


a particular form of this: duple rhythm; triple rhythm.


measured movement, as in dancing.


Art, Literature . a patterned repetition of a motif, formal element, etc., at regular or irregular intervals in the same or a modified form.


the effect produced in a play, film, novel, etc., by the combination or arrangement of formal elements, as length of scenes, speech and description, timing, or recurrent themes, to create movement, tension, and emotional value in the development of the plot.

Nature’s first green in gold

Her hardest hue to hold

-Robert Frost

Fat black bucks in a wine-barrelroom

Barrel-house kings, with feet unstable,

Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table

-Vashel Lindsay

Rhyme has a distinct repetition in sound that adds a rhythm quality. Rhythm makes the poem song-like:The ‘ah’ sounds in fat, black, barrelThe repetition of barrel

The rhyme of stable/table

The repeated ‘ee’ sounds in feet and reeled (assonance).

Let’s look at some examples.

Lady Gaga’s “Judas”:

In the most biblical sense, I am beyond  repentance
Fame hooker, prostitute  wench, vomits her mind
But in the  cultural sense I just speak in future tense
Judas  kiss me if offense, don’t wear your condom next time

Repentance, tense, mind and time are not true rhymes – this is an example of a half rhyme or a slant rhyme. However, to give the song rhythm, check out the highlighted words and alliteration that do give it rhythm:

In the most biblical sense, I am beyond  repentance
Fame hooker, prostitute  wench, vomits her mind
But in the  cultural sense I just speak in future tense
Judas  kiss me if offense, don’t wear your condom next time

Justin Bieber’s “Baby”:

Rhythm highlighted (but no true rhyme!)

For you, I would have done whatever
And I just can’t believe we’re here together
And I wanna play it cool, but I’m losin’ you
I’ll buy you anything, I’ll buy you any ring
And I’m in pieces, baby fix me
And just shake me ’til you wake me from this bad dream

A lot of my students are surprised to find that the songs they love, rap, even Bieber (it’s true) are all forms of poetry. It doesn’t have to rhyme as long as it’s got rhythm. It doesn’t even have to be spelled right, but it helps.

One more in favor of poetry rules!

 The score

 Poetry sucks: 1

 Poetry rules: 4

Poetry sucks… but you can share feeelings

23 Jul

Off? I don’t think so.


Awwww, feelings.

Poetry, according to one young mind is good for expressing your feelings.

Is this true?

According to Wikipedia, poetry is: Poetry (from the Greek poiesisποίησις — with a broad meaning of a “making”, seen also in such terms as “hemopoiesis“; more narrowly, the making of poetry) is a form of literary art which uses the aesthetic qualities of language to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning. Um, what?

Ok, so it’s about art, and it’s also about a process. Above, it says it’s a meaning of a “making”and this suggests to me that poetry is as much about crafting the product as it is the finished piece. For me personally, poetry is a valuable way of sifting and refining my own thoughts. On my last vacation I chose to write at least one poem a day instead of my normal journalling narrative as a change and a challenge. It became a richer experience because of the process of reflecting. And it was a bit easier to ask my friends to listen to my poems than to read a nerdy journal entry. Ok, so reading poetry might be nerdy too but, still.

I know a lot of my students choose to write poetry as a means of journalling and from time to time in my own life I poetify (I made that up) my own journey too. Sometimes it’s a way of coming to terms with something, with dealing.

When I worked in administration in both America and Great Britain, I always started a new job with rearranging my desk. You might find that when a new boss takes over, they restructure the staffing, the office layout or some processes or procedures. This is a way of reordering, mapping out our world so that we mark it and understand it.

Maybe we might even make some art out of it.

So yay for claiming our thoughts and yay for feelings. Yay for poetry.

One more mark for poetry rules.

The score

Poetry sucks: 1

Poetry rules: 3

Poetry sucks! …if you don’t give it time

6 Jun

It’s just too hard to understand… Sigh.

The score is two in favor of poetry and naught… not for poetry. It is time to pose the against argument. This is easy when it comes to teens (and many adults too). I am sure if I took a poll in the street, the majority would say poetry sucks. I know this. I admit that I am a minority and I am okay with this.

Why? Oh why, do you suck, thou poems?

Robert Fitzgerald said, “Poetry is at least an elegance and at most a revelation.” This suggests that to really understand poetry you need to have an appreciation of the elegance of writing. Do you take the time to admire things? I mean really to look at stuff in the world – the nearest tree, the glistening paths snails made during the night, the dragons in the clouds? Do you look for these things?

Poetry isn’t like going to the cinema for a chick flick. Without training the mind to admire, to look at the world with a sense of awe and appreciation, then you do not have an eye for poetry. It does not come naturally. In our culture of the constant and bombarding visual onslaught of information, dazzling lights, advertisements, flashy flash, we are accustomed to glancing – not looking, not seeing, not understanding on the deeper level. We don’t process what we see. This is simply too hard to do.

I am guilty.

I heart youtube and films and since I don’t get TV channels on my television (I know, it’s weird but it adds to my point) when I do enter a room and there is a TV on, I am mesmerized. No joke. I am like a moth to the light. I understand the poetry glaze because I understand that we have evolved to become lazy eyed in a figurative sense. We let information attack us and we do not engage.

Recently I watched a series on the Amish. One young Amish woman visited a shopping mall and she said that it made her feel ill because every store, every sign, every kiosk was aimed at throwing persuasive allure at her. She was overcome with the information and we are in the age where every business is savvy to lure you in. We don’t stop and think, we are coaxed in by the pretty and the cheap.

That is what much of the costly is: cheap. That is how businesses, top selling tat make moo-lah.

Poetry, on the other hand, is the finery, thought over, reflected upon art of the written word. It takes time and brain power to understand and appreciate. It is a hard thing to do.

For this reason, poetry sucks because it is hard for us to understand it unless we choose to use our minds to see.

What is your opinion of poetry? Be sure to click follow!

So the score this week is one for poetry sucks!

 The score

 Poetry sucks: 1

 Poetry doesn’t suck: 2

Poetry sucks! …but you learn about people’s lives

27 May


There should really be an apostrophe in there.

This term I have been teaching poetry to some not very enthused 12-13 year olds and I’ve been polling their honest opinions about my second favourite topic to teach: poetry! What is my first you ask? Creative writing definitely and sometimes it is Shakespeare (check out the poem I wrote on The Tempest). So here is the second instalment of my new series on why poetry sucks and/or doesn’t suck.

So, does poetry suck? One student wrote that you learn about people’s lives! Ah-ha!

Whose lives? And why is this even important?! Inquiring minds want to know.

My students have been learning about conflict poetry from WWI so they know about Robert Graves who desperately missed his loved ones from the trenches, Alan Seeger, Wilfred Owen, Vera Brittain,  Charles Sorely, John McCrae and Rupert Brooke  – wait! I see that unlearned glazed look. Hold your hovering finger right there and do NOT click the back button. Go to scroll. Keep reading. Good.

Did you know that Alan Seeger was a US citizen who was killed on the fourth day of the Battle of the Somme, 4 July 1916, at the age of 28? This was one of the most famously bloody battles?  Did you know that 20% of the entire British fighting force had been killed on the FIRST day?

Did you know Wilfred Owen spent a few extremely long and lonely days in the remains of corpses in a German dugout after being blown away from his fellow soldiers? This gives the reader their window – or rampart – to view from, to undertand the immense tragedy when he went back to the front line for a second time (against his friend, Sassoon’s wishes) to be killed one week before the signing of the Armistice. My heart sinks. He had written to his mother: ” I have not been at the front. – I have been in front of it.”

Did you know Vera Brittain lost her fiance, brother, close friend, and second fiance to WWI? Also, one of her friends became blind as a result of the war and this gives context and meaning to her moving poem “Perhaps” on the grief she endured for the rest of her life.  We understand people and we can then understand their art, their writing, and see and feel their emotions through our perception of it.

Then, we might learn about ourselves. But I can’t tell them that, can I?

See how the poetry sucks/does not argument pans out next week! Be sure to click follow!

Please comment: Who is your favourite poet?

So the score this week is one in favour of poetry!

 The score

 Poetry sucks: 0

 Poetry doesn’t suck: 2